When the alcohol flows, the music thumps and space is tight on the lawn at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, tempers can flare.
It happened again Friday night, when security staff broke up several fights during Crüe Fest with headliner Mötley Crüe, Live Nation’s last concert of the season, which attracted 11,700 people, state park police said.
No arrests resulted from the fights, but 15 people were charged with underage drinking and four others were arrested — for driving while intoxicated, criminal trespass, assault and marijuana possession, said Sgt. Jack Sadousky. Live Nation’s hired security staff also kicked several people out of the concert, Sadousky said.
Officials this year tested out new parking restrictions at Saratoga Spa State Park before the big concerts to corral people into certain parking lots and hopefully limit illegal behavior.
For years, the Geyser Loop picnic areas have been popular gathering spots for revelers before rock concerts but a headache for state park police and cleanup crews. New roadblocks that prevent people from driving into those areas a few hours before Live Nation concerts seem to be working, officials said.
The barricades direct people paying the $6 park entrance fee to park in the Peerless Pool complex rather than the more sheltered picnic areas and are geared toward making big pre-concert crowds more manageable.
With woods and various picnic areas, the state park offers a venue where people can elude police scrutiny, said Donald Lavarge, vice president for Local 2796 of the New York Park Police Officers Union.
“There’s a lot of nooks and crannies that make it very difficult to enforce. I question whether SPAC was designed for these large events,” Lavarge said.
Blocking off the Geyser Loop area appears to be a step in the right direction toward making officers’ job easier, he said.
Plague of Litterbugs
Restricting the parking to certain areas also makes trash pickup easier, said Michael Greenslade, park manager.
“We’re trying to contain them more so it’s an easier cleanup.”
Although the state park has a “carry in, carry out” garbage policy, that’s not always followed, especially during concerts.
“[At] the bigger concerts, obviously there’s more people. And people bring more trash,” Greenslade said.
The day after the second of two back-to-back Dave Matthews Band concerts this summer, the grass inside SPAC was trampled, and trash littered the grassy parking lot on the north side of the park and the picnic areas. Blue and red plastic cups and beer cans and bottles were tossed into the woods within steps of the SPAC entrance.
The state park maintenance crew spends a couple of hours the morning after every concert cleaning up and then does a more extensive litter removal in the fall when the leaves are off the trees, Greenslade said.
The grounds crew numbers about 15 people in the summer, and half are seasonal employees, he said. Between eight and 10 inmates from the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility assist the grounds crew daily.
And concert promoter Live Nation provides cleanup helpers after big concerts to pick up trash at the state park crew’s direction, said John Huff, senior vice president for Live Nation’s northeast region. Live Nation employees also clean up the SPAC parking lots on Route 50, Huff said.
Areas where the public will go the next day get first priority, Greenslade said.
“We try to get as much as they can the day after. We want people to come to the park and enjoy the park for what it is,” he said.
Although the roadblocks help, the state park police union says big, intoxicated and unruly crowds still create a safety issue for their officers and the public.
“I’m very concerned about what we consider an increase in the amount of injuries to officers directly related to combative subjects at these concert events,” Lavarge said.
Live Nation says people are under control.
“The majority of the guests that come to SPAC and our shows at SPAC don’t cause problems,” Huff said.
Live Nation contracts with a third-party security company, Strike Force Security Services, which does background checks, searches bags, intervenes in conflicts and prevents crime inside SPAC, Huff said.
“On a show like Dave Matthews, we’ll have upward of 150 guards inside the facility,” he said. The number of security officers depends on the size and type of crowd, he explained.
Security guards are unarmed and can’t make arrests, so they call in the park police if there’s a serious problem.
Live Nation also pays $20,000 a year to the park police for their services, Huff said. Figures for how many police officers staff concerts could not be obtained.
The state park police union doesn’t like that officers are pulled from other parts of the state to cover SPAC during concerts and some nights everyone on staff is required to work.
“There should be enough police officers assigned here to take care of the public,” said Sgt. Jack Sadousky, regional vice president for Saratoga and the Finger Lakes region for Local 102 of the state park police supervisors’ union.
But Richard O’Donnell, director of law enforcement for the state park police, said staffing levels are adequate at the state parks: “We’ve been policing SPAC and some of the other concert venues with great success.”
Police and staff try to keep traffic backups on Route 50 and the Avenue of the Pines to a minimum, but they’re sometimes unavoidable, as many a motorist can attest.
Flashing road signs on Route 50 warn drivers of possible traffic delays at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center a few days in advance of big concerts.
Police officers sometimes direct traffic at key intersections, and parking employees try to get cars into the lots and off the roads as quickly as possible.
All of these things are arranged in advance, Huff said, through meetings that start in February between state park police, Live Nation, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, state police, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and the state Department of Transportation.
Still, officials can’t plan for everything.
Before the Journey, Cheap Trick and Heart concert Aug. 24, the cars lined up on Route 50 for a mile in both directions and were backed up all the way onto West Avenue at a near standstill.
“It seemed like all the cars came at once,” Huff said.
Saratoga Springs resident Edward Holohean Jr. said the traffic is more controlled and the crowds smaller and better behaved than they used to be.
Holohean, 50, lives once again in his childhood home on Route 50 near the railroad bridge and remembers watching cars lined up on Route 50 in front of his house in years past.
“When I was a teenager, that traffic would sit out there for an hour,” he recalled. Drivers would yell out their windows at each other and honk their horns, but that rarely happens anymore.
“They have a cop car down there now, so people are just more quiet.”
Holohean attended many shows at SPAC in the late 1960s and ’70s, before SPAC instituted its current 25,000 cap on attendance.
“You couldn’t put a blanket down,” Holohean said of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the lawn.
Even the concerts seem quieter now.
“I used to be able to hear the bands from my porch, and I can’t do that anymore,” he said.